Wellness Programs Are Changing With the Times

Julie Shenkman
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Traditional wellness programs for American companies used to include annual biometric screenings, health risk assessments, gym memberships and ergonomic workstations. Workers would get discounts on family health insurance plans or other perks for taking steps to improve their own health in relevant ways.

Employee well-being has become the new normal as companies re-examine what wellness programs should offer. In addition to regular health screenings, many companies now have expanded paid time off, parenting classes, leadership training and community volunteer projects.

Research by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans reveals employers feel vacation time, mental health coverage, tuition reimbursement and charity drives are the top, nontraditional aspects of wellness programs. Human resources departments have realized that overall employee well-being has just as much to do with psychological and emotional fitness as it does with physical health and regular doctor visits.

One relevant example of this paradigm shift comes from Team Horner, a spa distributor in Florida. Kim Kent's official job title at Team Horner is well-being coordinator. She oversees a staff of 430 and coordinates wellness initiatives such as parenting classes, free fruit, stress management classes, on-site massage, cooking classes and hula hoop fitness classes. Employees can take naps in quiet "Take 5" rooms. Sales staff who travel get plug-in coolers for cars to stock healthy snacks and bottled water. These perks happen on top of employee discounts for health insurance when staff completes biometric screenings.

The award-winning program started in 2012, and employees manage it themselves rather than rely on executives. Staffers know that if they spend too much money on employer-supplied wellness programs, the benefits get taken away.

Chicago-based Tasty Catering even believes well-being programs are necessary to maintain the company's culture. The catering business offers low-interest loans to employees who need money in a pinch. Loan payments are deducted from a worker's paycheck that are manageable for each employee. Tasty Catering also provides leadership training for employees who want to expand their horizons.

Approximately half of American employers with more than 50 workers offer wellness initiatives for their employees. Some firms see these concepts as ways to reduce health care costs for insurance. Other firms rely on wearable technology to track the efficiency of wellness programs. Wearable tech allows employees to view their progress during a health initiative. Health care providers get instant access to their patients and can recommend changes to health moving forward. Employers who supply wearable technology provide a perk not possible five years ago with the advent of smaller, wireless devices.

Wellness programs have evolved to more than just checking in with a doctor every year. Mental health breaks, on-site massages and free food have become the norm for companies that want to retain more employees for longer periods of time. Healthier, happier employees mean more profits in the long run.

Photo courtesy of dusky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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